Eugenics, what’s in a term?

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Ross Douthat is concerned with the “New Eugenics.” He linked to my summation of some of the data which Armand Leroi has collected on the rise of selective abortions & genetic screening. Ezra Klein isn’t buying Ross’ characterization of course; actually, like Ezra I think there are serious differences between the old eugenics which emerged from the biometrical school (which became quantitative genetics) and the new eugenics which is predicated on the ubiquity of genomic & fertility technology. Nevertheless, in the proximate sense, for example in our life spans, it might not make much of a difference whether the selective abortions are of heritable traits or those with would result in sharply reduced fitness anyhow (like Down Syndrome). It seems to me that to some extent the Left, which does not fear reproductive technology, is allergic to the term eugenics because of its historical resonances. I’m not going to argue over a word. But, I will offer that Richard Dawkins, no Ross Douthat, is willing to bring up the term in reference to the trends in genetics. I think that sentiments and dynamics reminiscent of the old eugenics is pretty much inevitable now that “we have the technology,” it really doesn’t matter what you call it.

P.S. And once we get government backed health care in the USA I’m pretty sure that the element of coercion will come into play (perhaps we’ll call it “incentives for terminative preventative care” or something).

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8 Comments

  1. I’ve heard that Cuba in particular has way more abortions than other countries because it helps keep their child-mortality rate down.

  2. Even without the race connotations, eugenics still scare the hell out of people. First, because of the “first step” syndrome (“today, Duchenne, tomorrow, brown eyes or flat feet ?”). Second, because they’ve seen that Gattaca film (and if you haven’t, you should). Eugenics is one of those things that suck even more for those who haven’t had any of it. 
     
    P.S. And once we get government backed health care in the USA I’m pretty sure that the element of coercion will come into play (perhaps we’ll call it “incentives for terminative preventative care” or something). 
     
    Care to back that up with real data from Western countries with state-sponsored health care? I’m not aware that we have any of that in France or in the UK.

  3. I’ll bet that parts of France and the UK see abortions for lack-of-Y-chromosome disorder.

  4.  
    Care to back that up with real data from Western countries with state-sponsored health care? I’m not aware that we have any of that in France or in the UK.
     
     
    well, genetic testing isn’t that widespread yet, so of course this isn’t necessary due to socialized medicine. but anyway, i found stuff like this.

  5. and just to be clear, i don’t think anyone will be forced to abort. but, i do think some care may be withheld if the parents knew that the child was going to be born with a disease which would result in a 6 month life expectancy and maximal treatment could increase life 3 or 4 months. it just seems that the cost of testing (our information) will go down far faster than our ability to cure or treat every ailment under the sky. basically i’m making a malthusian argument (though over the short term).

  6. Hypothetically, do you see government sponsored healthcare go down that path for the United States?(if one can herd the cats into accepting such a plan, another discussion for another day). 
     
    I wouldn’t be surprised to see private companies offer such incentives first, in order to be more effective. Basically, a good student/driver type discount offered by the insurance companies.

  7. Personally, I’m a little cautious that any public sponsored healthcare system in the USA would go down the path of “incentives for terminative preventative care”, considering the friction against embryonic stem cell research.

  8.  
    I wouldn’t be surprised to see private companies offer such incentives first, in order to be more effective. Basically, a good student/driver type discount offered by the insurance companies.
     
     
    i think public outcry would prevent this sort of thing. insurance companies are already detested and distrusted, they don’t have gov. fiat behind them nor the patina of a public consensus. e.g., some states ban use of credit scores to det. auto insurance rates because of disparate racial effects. that seems small potatoes to me compared to health care.

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